Tuesday, May 20, I started to feel some contractions coming on. It’s amazing how fast memory fades, but I can’t even remember what these ones felt like. I called Jan, my midwife, and told her that they were lasting about 1-1/2 minutes and were very sporadic in how far apart they were. She felt that it was only practice labor. She said I could call her anytime if I wanted to but that I should get some rest. She wanted me to sleep that night so to drink a half of a beer or glass of wine if I needed to.
The contractions continued but I could still walk around during them. A few woke me up in the night but it was no big deal as I remember. Fred stayed home to drive me to my pre-natal appt. the next day. It was Monday the 21st, my mother’s birthday. Of course my mom was really hoping to share her birthday with her first grandchild.
When I got to the appointment my contractions were well apart-about 20 minutes. When they came I would get on all 4’s and just feel them happening. It felt like Braxton-hix contractions only a bit stronger. We talked about a lot of things at the appointment, including my fears. Lucky was there, too. I had a good cry with my lady-friends when Fred left the room and I felt much better after that. Jan couldn’t tell me what the pain would be like but she assured me that I could do it. One of the things she said that really stuck in my head was something like, “Is it gonna hurt? Yeah, probably. But can you give a day to your baby? Of course you can!”She was wonderful. Lucky, too. Jan read me some stories out of her midwifery collection. One was about a couple who danced cheek-to-cheek through their entire labor.
Jan checked my cervix and found that it was thinned out but only dilated about the size of a ball bearing (BB). She thought she may have felt the baby’s hand slide by my cervix. This could have meant that the baby’s hand was up by its face. She was concerned about the small amount of dilation and decided to use some evening primrose oil to help it along.
Wednesday night we went to a class on breastfeeding. By the end of the class, I was very uncomfortable and having some contractions on the floor in their back hallway. On the way home, I needed to be on all 4’s in the front seat. I called Jan from the car and we discussed what was happening. She was very supportive and asked if I wanted her to come out, but with the irregularity of my contractions, we thought that would be premature. The best thing would be for us both to try and rest, but I should call her if anything changed. I was glad that we did it that way, because we had a long day ahead of us!
Once I got home, the contractions got pretty painful. I would lean over the side of my bed with my feet on the floor and my head resting on the bed. This would’ve been more relaxing but the windows were open and I was shivering during each contraction. I noticed that that was making them much more painful, so I asked Fred to close the window.
After that, I found I was strangely more comfortable on the toilet. Somehow, sitting there naked and leaning back, I could relax and allow the contractions to happen. I started focusing on relaxing every muscle (besides the ones responsible for contractions) in my body and really allowing the waves of tightness to travel through me unhindered. It was amazing how much better it felt to do that and how I could get through each contraction just breathing and focusing. I had a few contractions in that way on the toilet and felt that I was getting a pretty good handle on things, and then I had a contraction that worked its way down (I was picturing a big worm-like tunnel with a peristaltic action working its way from top to bottom) and when it got to the bottom, it was so painful, I threw up.
That whole night I never thought that I was in real labor and I’m glad, because I think that would have made things seem longer and somehow diminished my capacity for the pain. I never felt, during the whole labor, that the pain that I was having was the worst that it would get. I tried to lay down in bed again after that, but found that just laying there or squatting on all 4’s it hurt too badly. I thought I could relax better on the toilet. So I went back into the bathroom. Poor Fred kept checking on me and asking me to go back to bed, but I wouldn’t. He brought me a pillow for behind my head on the back of the toilet. At some point, he filled up the tub for me and I got in. He asked me if I wanted a pillow behind me and I said “No.” because I didn’t want it to get wet. He figured I was worth it and put it behind my back anyway. I was glad when he did!
I stayed in the tub for a long time. I slept between contractions. There are no windows in our bathroom and no clock so I had no idea what time it was. When I came out, I thought it was around 5 am. But it was already light out. Time had escaped me completely. I climbed in my bed and tried to sleep a little bit.
I called Jan early that morning and she came at around 9:30 am (I think). Lucky followed a little while later. As soon as she got there, Jan started helping me with my contractions. She told me, “That’s right, good. Feel the energy going down and out your legs.” Lucky rubbed my back and Fred prepared for the day ahead, tired as he was from staying up all night in the other room and worrying about me and the baby. I was having some sciatic pain so I sat on a bag of frozen peas while I waited for Jan’s homeopathic remedy to take effect. It worked quicker and more effectively than I had thought possible!
Jan timed my contractions for a while. They wanted me to eat and drink because I had been vomiting and had nothing in my stomach for a long time. I really couldn’t, though. I had a bite of something and it just came back up with the next contraction.
Thinking back, I’m still in shock that I did all of this! That I made it through the whole birth without anything but homeopathics and lots of love, massage and support. The thing that seemed to help me the most was Fred’s constant massaging of my low back and the moaning. I moaned with each contraction at least from the time that Jan got there. I felt so validated by her presence and the way she and Lucky comforted me during the contractions. The moaning was great because it helped to draw the pain and energy of the contraction out of me.
It’s funny how you go into your first birth with no perspective. You don’t know where you are in it because you’ve never been anywhere like that before. I felt I really had to “draw on the power of Zen” as my friend Jay says, to say to myself “I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know where I’ve been. I’ve felt where I’ve been but I never did and still don’t know where I was. I don’t know how far I’ve got to go or how long it will take to get there. I don’t know what I’ll encounter along the way. I’m here now experiencing this contraction, this moment, this feeling, and I’ll never be back here, exactly here, again.” I drew strength from knowing that whatever I had experienced was past and I never had to go there again.
I was squirming in my seat when one of my contractions came on. Lucky told me that I couldn’t get away from it so to just let it happen. That helped me so much. Just hearing all three of them say something as simple as “good” or “You’re doing great, Nikki” or “relax, let it happen” made all the difference in the world. I was so well taken care of; I know that the hospital will never be an option for my next babies.
Jan wanted to check and see how everything was coming along so I got up on the bed for her to see. We all celebrated that I was 8.5 cm dilated. She had thought maybe I wouldn’t be dilating well because of how my cervix had been the day before. I didn’t know it but she was afraid that I had been doing all that work and not dilated.
Everyone was excited-especially me-thinking that maybe, just maybe, it would be over soon. Everyone started hustling to get the birthing tub filled with water. Eventually I got in the tub, or what Lucky calls “150 gallons of doula love”. It was so nice and warm and big and wonderful. Granted, my contractions still hurt, but it helped me relax a lot more. Fred got in the tub with me and I squatted while sitting on his lap. It was so nice to be close to him and in the water. Mostly I was on my hands and knees with my arms hanging out over the side of the tub. I still had four more hours of labor to go!
At the end of that time, my contractions seemed to be coming doubly quick. Becca, another doula, got there at some point and was helping out. Fred massaged my back for probably 3 hours straight. Poor guy! Any time he would move his fingers from my back, I would scream “Fred, my back!” We thought maybe the back pain was the baby’s hand up by his face, causing him to be a little stuck. It was hard to tell. But, I could definitely feel the baby trying to come down, however slowly.
Toward the end, I decided I had had enough and tried pushing. I just wanted it to be over! It was hurting more and more, and the ladies were having me grunt and growl. Probably very interesting for the other tenants in my apartment complex! I wasn’t sure that my efforts at pushing would do any good, but I gave it a shot. Lucky coached me, telling me to start just by grunting at the peak of a contraction. I did, but it only hurt more. Jan told me later that the urge to push is more of an idea that you want it to end, so that’s why you push. That’s exactly where I was at. So, I grunted for a few contractions. Then, a bit later, I tried pushing through a whole contraction. It didn’t seem to be doing much, except hurting but maybe it hurt a little less when I did it through the entire contraction. I tried it a few more times intermittently.
Finally, one contraction, I decided I REALLY wanted to get this finished. I had been on my knees with my arms hanging out of the tub for some time. Lucky was holding my hands. I pushed a bit harder, but, to be honest, not as hard as I had thought I would have to from hearing other women’s stories. Suddenly, I heard a “POP!” My water broke and came shooting out of me and my baby came barreling down the birth canal with it, to where I could feel its head right behind my vaginal opening. I said “The baby’s coming!” What I meant was “I can feel that the head is way down, now. The body has come down the birth canal and the head is about to crown.” I’m not sure I got that across! Luckily, Lucky checked me and saw the head was crowning. She said “This is the part we talk about.” But I don’t remember talking about it. All I remembered were Coral, my birth class teacher, describing it as the “Ring of Fire.”
I found it amazing how full and open I felt at that moment. It was the moment of truth. I knew that I would have to make a conscious effort-a choice, if you will-to push this baby out through that small hole. To somewhat voluntarily split myself apart! But, then again, the contractions hurt so badly. Plus I had heard that once the baby was out there was no pain, so I pushed with all my might!
I pushed for 12 minutes and the baby’s head came out. I was still on my knees. Fred recalls that in one contraction the top of his head came out. The next contraction was the baby’s forehead. The third brought out the whole head, except the chin was stuck. The baby hung out there, turning purple, for about a minute, 40 seconds, while I yelled “Can you pull it out?!” Lucky said “No.” but actually that’s kind of what happened. They said that the next contraction, I would have to really push hard. Fred said “Give her hell, honey!” I pushed as hard as I could, and Jan got in there and gave a little tug, and out came our baby! I swung my leg over so I could sit and have the baby on my chest. Well, I guess I had a lot of help “swinging” my leg over! I held the babe close and opened its legs. “It’s a boy!” I said. Oops, I was supposed to let Fred say that!
His face was all purple but he was doing just fine. Lucky helped me hold his body under the water to keep him warm while they checked him out. He stared up at me and puckered his lips. That’s when we had our first kiss. Jan said, “Do we have a name for this baby?” We didn’t because we had expected a girl. So she said, “Well, do you have something I can call him temporarily, because I need to talk to him and I like to have a name to address him by.” So I said “How about River?” And it stuck. Just perfect for a boy born in the water, Jan thought. And so do I.
During the labor, I would have said that that was the worst day of my life. After the birth I was happier than I had ever been and probably ever will be. Talk about extremes! I was high as a kite for at least a week and I’m sure that going natural played a big role in that. Water birth was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to everyone!
River nursed as soon as I left the tub with no problems at all. He was a happy, healthy 9lb 1oz baby. He still brings Fred and me joy every day of our lives.